HGIA: Language Contact

Zits cartoon using the German word "über."
© by Zits Partnership, used with permission of King Features Syndicate.

The mutual influence of German and English on one another is a good example of the way languages can be enriched through contact. Many German-derived words have entered the English lexicon through the immigrants’ everyday language including “coffee klatch,” “kitsch,” and “waltz.” Other English words, such as “angst,” “leitmotif,” and “zeitgeist,” came by way of literature, the arts, and education. Even as immigration from German-speaking countries has declined and fewer Americans learn German, words like “foosball” and “poltergeist” still find their way into English. Not just words, but also parts of words from German are productive in English, including “-fest” (“gabfest”), “-meister” (“spinmeister”), and the prefix “über/uber” (shown here), which means “over-” or “super-.”

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